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Spain | Extended crisis over Catalan independence likely

Spain | Extended crisis over Catalan independence likely

A speech by the king of Spain last night (3 October 2017), has made it more likely that the Catalan government will issue a unilateral declaration of independence in the near future.

This would almost certainly prompt large demonstrations for and against independence across much of the country. The national government and Catalan separatists are both taking intransigent positions, and it is unclear how they can resolve the crisis. An extended period of uncertainty marked by growing security and political risks now seems probable.

The momentum on both sides is away from compromise. And an attempt by separatists to use the referendum last Sunday to push for talks with Madrid over secession seems to have failed. The national government appears unwilling to engage, in part because doing so would indirectly acknowledge the political importance of the illegal referendum and even legitimise the vote. The king’s speech yesterday will have emboldened the Spanish government in this stance. He sided strongly with Madrid, and called for the state to ‘ensure the constitutional order’.

With no real options for negotiations remaining, the Catalan government is left with two broad options. First, it can back down. This would involve it postponing its push for independence and accepting a constitutional court judgement that the referendum was illegal. This outcome is highly improbable, at least at this stage. Alternatively it can push ahead, and this would most probably involve issuing a declaration of independence. We assess that this is now becoming the more likely route that the Catalan government will take in the coming days. Such a declaration could take the form of an immediate secession or a phased process.

We cannot see any plausible scenario under which the current national government would accept an independence declaration from Catalonia. Rather such a move by the Catalan government would most likely prompt Madrid to suspend the autonomy of Catalonia and implement direct rule. In our analysis, this is now the most probable outcome within the coming week or so.

We anticipate that there would be large demonstrations immediately following a declaration of independence, as well as after a suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy. Turnout would probably be highest in Barcelona. The possible arrest of Catalan politicians or members of the Catalan police force (Mossos d’Esquadra) for sedition – some of whom are already under investigation – are also flashpoints for protests and a greater risk of violent unrest.

Published: 4th October 2017